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Central California's "forgotten" gem fields ...

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Author Topic: Central California's "forgotten" gem fields ...  (Read 14007 times)
« on: July 23, 2012, 10:27:41 pm »

Vacationers, try Central California's "forgotten" gem fields ...

Vacation plans are always a challenge, and no one is more conflicted with the sheer enormity of vacation planning than the average rockhound.
Amongst those most conflicted are the thousands of rockhounds who visit California each year, in search of mineral riches and recreation.

California, from border to border, is a rockhounds paradise. From the rainbow obsidian of Davis Creek and myriad quartz varieties of the Gold Country, to the numerous nephrite deposits, both coastal and far inland, and the rich gem deposits of the southern deserts, the collecting choices are simply staggering.

Geologically unusual and unique areas abound. The Clear Creek deposits offer jadeite, nephrite, serpentine, agate, jasper, chert and, of course, benitoite.  And that's just the start in these deeply subducted, catastrophically upthrust mountains.
Sadly, the Clear Creek deposits have been closed down to public entry, making rockhounding difficult at best, and downright illegal in the worst. And it's a complicated and sordid story, best told elsewhere.

When rockhounds think of jade, the name "Jade Cove" generally comes to mind. However, in California, nephrite is widespread, found in the Sierra foothills and up and down the Coast. The beaches and Alps of the Humboldt are known for giant boulders of nephrite, requiring the use of helicopters to transport to the sculptors hands. The finest botryoidal  nephrite is found in this region, rare and exquisite in form and color.

However, these fine areas are often referred to as "picked over." Certainly, the geode beds of Wiley's Well and other desert sites are increasingly challenging to collect in, requiring extensive digging to retrieve good materials.
Jade Cove collecting rules seem to change with the wind, or at least the whim of politicians.

But, there are places in Central California that offer easy collecting and superb material to the visiting rockhound.

While on the Coast, take the opportunity to collect some of California's "forgotten" gem fields. On the coast, Waddell Creek Beach and the surrounding area feature lots of agatized materials, including petroleum-included "oil agate." It offers a unique cutting experience, releasing the aroma of crude oil when worked.

Heading east through Gilroy and across the Pacheco Pass on Hwy 152, rockhounds will find great roadside and public easement collecting to the south and north. Even if you only search the flood control culverts next to truck stops, you'll find lots of lovely agate, chert, and other cutting material.

Half an hour south of the intersections of Hwy 152 & I-5, the Big Pile has been collected extensively in the past few years by members of Rockhound Field Trip Fanatics! Located on Canal District easement west of Firebaugh, the Big Pile offers a huge selection of nearly every material found on the Central Coast. Our signature Blue G & chocolate magnesite were first collected here.

Some of the lovely materials to be collected in the Panoche Hills

Just down I-5 from the Big Pile are the Lil' Panoche and Area 54 sites. Part of the estuarine area of the ancient inland sea that once filled the San Joaquin Valley, the bed of Little Panoche Creek is literally filled with great jasper, agate and other cuttables, including both of the true jades.

I've been collecting in the southern Panoches and adjacent Tumey Hills since the late 80's, only moving north to Little Panoche Creek in 2009. I'd been told for decades "Oh, there's nothing to collect up there"  by the "old timers." Nothing could have been further from the truth!

Nudged persistently by a new collecting partner, we moved northward along I-5, combing farm & ranch rock piles. The material we found encouraged my new friend Mark to do some Google Earth prospecting, and we soon decided to check the creek beds leading into the Panoches. We were astounded at the abundance of gem rock we encountered!

Here's the bounty of one afternoons collecting in the Panoche Hills!

Area 54 is our newest treasure trove, located to the west of I-5 in the bed of Little Panoche Creek. The creek bed swells wide in this area, and has been accessed both for fill and as a dumping area for unwanted rock from farm, ranch & gravel operations.

Today, there are uncountable tons of colorful and cuttable gem rock to be collected here. The collecting is as simple as driving in and walking about, going from pile to pile.
However, there are challenges to be met, primarily during the summer months. Temperatures soar during the summer, often reaching 100 degrees before 10am. Early morning collecting is a must out there!

Though quite remote, modern conveniences are easily accessed along the Interstate. Camping, both roadside and in campgrounds of various styles, is easily accessed. Canal-side camping is often allowed, and the San Luis State Recreation Area offers something for every family member. RV resorts and motels are found throughout the area.

For the hot springs aficionado, Mercey Hot Springs Resort offers a rustic resort experience, along with some of the best star gazing skies in the world. Making a point of offering a haven from the stress and worry of modern life, they even encourage guests to rockhound on their property. The adjacent BLM Area offers primitive dry camping, for those who truly enjoy roughing it.

These great destinations are only the beginning of the myriad attractions rockhounds will find in Central California, with hundreds of minerals and gem materials to be found by the patient and intrepid rockhound.

We hope that you'll join us out in the Panoches when you visit California. We're sure that you'll be amazed that the "secret" of this gem strewn land survived for so many years.

For more information and scheduled field trips, see

Kris & Al
Hand-2-Mouth Mining
Fresno, CA
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Somewhere over the rainbow... way up high

« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2012, 10:30:02 pm »

Nice, thank you:)
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― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2012, 12:47:18 am »

Cool report!
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« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2012, 03:40:47 pm »

Nice rockhounding story! dancer5
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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2012, 07:37:12 pm »

what a variety. Top left slab is the most striking for me. thanks for the story.
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